Above: On the second-to-last night of our recent Rolling Thunder Cantele USA 2013 Tour, Paolo and I managed to snag a table at Shelley Lindgren’s SPQR, her impossible-to-get-a-reservation Roman-inspired restaurant in San Francisco. That’s Paolo (right) with Shelley. They first met when Shelley was traveling through Southern Italy doing research for her book on Southern Italian wine.
Before there was Shelley Lindgren, no one thought it could be done: her all-Southern Italian wine list, which debuted at A16 when it opened in San Francisco in 2004, changed the way the wine world perceived Italian wines from Rome southward.
As legendary New York restaurateur Joe Bastianich put it in the jacket quote for the restaurant’s recipe and wine book (published in 2008), “Shelley Lindgren’s pioneering wine program at A16 has single-handedly brought recognition to the indigenous grapes of the Mezzogiorno.”
Until that time, Southern Italian wine was relegated to the “curiosity” and “misfits” pages of the great Italian wine lists. Yes, there were exceptions to this general rule. But for the most part, Southern Italian wines were considered — erroneously — as second-tier, “value” wines, not to be confused with the great wines of Italy.
When her all-Southern Italian list debuted in 2004, at the peak of the Italian wine and food renaissance in the U.S., it stunned the fine dining crowd with its breadth and its scope (I’ll never forget having a 1992 Gaglioppo there when I first visited in 2008).
Today, from Avellino to Lecce, from Vittoria to Vulture, Southern Italian winemakers and wine lovers all owe her an inestimable debt for having introduced a generation of Americans to the virtues of Southern Italian wine.
I, for one, could have never written my list at Sotto in Los Angeles, also 100% Southern Italian, a collection of wines that debuted in 2011. Thanks to Shelley, so many California importers began bringing in wines from Southern Italy and by the time that I got to the game, she had done all the heavy lifting for me by nudging importers to seek out and bring the wines to the U.S.
Thank you, Shelley, for your pioneering spirit, your superb wine knowledge, and for being one of the nicest people I have ever met in the fine wine and food trade.
We had a great meal and a great time at your restaurant.